The ACCC is taking Qantas to the Federal Court, alleging the airline was continuing to sell tickets to flights it had already cancelled.
The consumer watchdog alleges that the Flying Kangaroo engaged in “false, misleading or deceptive conduct” by selling tickets on its website to more than 8,000 flights departing between May and July 2022 for up to 47 days after those flights had been cancelled.
It also claims that Qantas failed to notify ticket holders of more than 10,000 flights departing between May and July 2022 that their flights had been cancelled for an average of around 18 days, with some notifications delayed for up to 48 days, and that it did not update its ‘Manage Booking’ page for ticketholders when flights were cancelled.
According to ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb, the case stems from an analysis of data showing Qantas cancelled almost a quarter of flights between May and July 2022, or 15,000 of 66,000 scheduled domestic flights departing from all states and mainland territories.
The watchdog says that for 70 per cent of these cancelled flights, Qantas “continued to sell tickets for the flight on its website for two days or more, or delayed informing existing ticketholders that their flight was cancelled for two days or more, or both”.
“The ACCC has conducted a detailed investigation into Qantas’ flight cancellation practices. As a result, we have commenced these proceedings alleging that Qantas continued selling tickets for thousands of cancelled flights, likely affecting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people,” said Cass-Gottlieb.
“We allege that Qantas’ conduct in continuing to sell tickets to cancelled flights, and not updating ticketholders about cancelled flights, left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices to fly at a particular time not knowing that flight had already been cancelled.
“There are vast distances between Australia’s major cities. Reliable air travel is essential for many consumers in Australia who are seeking to visit loved ones, take holidays, grow their businesses or connect with colleagues. Cancelled flights can result in significant financial, logistical and emotional impacts for consumers.”
In a statement, Qantas said it is taking the allegations seriously and will respond to them in full in court.
“We have a longstanding approach to managing cancellations for flights, with a focus on providing customers with rebooking options or refunds. It’s a process that is consistent with common practice at many other airlines,” the airline said.
“It’s important to note that the period examined by the ACCC between May and July 2022 was a time of unprecedented upheaval for the entire airline industry. All airlines were experiencing well-publicised issues from a very challenging restart, with ongoing border uncertainty, industry-wide staff shortages and fleet availability causing a lot of disruption.”
The ACCC acknowledged that many cancellations can occur due to external factors such as weather, aircraft faults and knock-on effects from previous flight delays, but claims that this was not the case for a substantial portion of the flights in question.
“We allege that Qantas made many of these cancellations for reasons that were within its control, such as network optimisation including in response to shifts in consumer demand, route withdrawals or retention of take-off and landing slots at certain airports,” said Cass-Gottlieb.
“However, this case does not involve any alleged breach in relation to the actual cancellation of flights, but rather relates to Qantas’ conduct after it had cancelled the flights.”
In a Senate committee hearing on Monday, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce defended high cancellation rates on routes like Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Canberra, saying it is better to cancel flights on more frequent routes than leave customers waiting for a lower-frequency flight.
Around 2,300 flights between Sydney and Melbourne across all major carriers were cancelled in the first six months of 2023.